As an American-born Asian-American seeking out God’s calling for me in ministry, I am contemplating the pros and cons of different models. This post will focus on the advantages and opportunities of being part of an immigrant-led bilingual Asian church in America. I realize that these are oversimplifications, but they do exhibit truth. If we wanted to, we could spend much time about the disadvantages and limitations of immigrant churches. That will be for another time.
These points are adapted from a lecture from the Talbot course, The Asian Church in American Society, taught by Professors Benjamin Shin and Sheryl Takagi Silzer.
- Opportunities to build generational bridges and cultural bridges.
Many of these churches have a mother-tongue ministry and an English-speaking ministry. This affords people opportunities to interact cross-culturally and cross-generationally. As the church strives to be unified under one roof, there are times that the different cultures learn from each other. Often parents want their children to continue worshiping in the same church as they do. Immigrant churches tend to be very family-oriented. This environment gives people chances to interact with different generations.
- Opportunities to learn spiritual lessons.
Our older generations are wiser than we are. For the American-born generation, there are opportunities for the older, immigrant generation to mentor them. As much as I desire autonomy, I realize that my parents are wiser than I am. This model creates a natural environment for mentorship. Furthermore, the American-born generation can look to the immigrant generation to set an example for them regarding spiritual disciplines. I am always impressed seeing the dedication and love for God that the older generation shows through their prayer and sacrifice.
- Financial support—Immigrant churches go “all out” for causes.
Because of both a high level of ownership and identity with a corporate body, congregants in an immigrant church tend to be willing to sacrifice for cuases like missions and building projects.
- Provision of facilities.
It proves difficult for church plants to find places to meet, as they end up often in schools and hotels. Immigrant churches have facilities and resources for the English-speaking ministries to use.
- All members of the church family “together” at the church.
An immigrant church is designed to keep the whole family together, as people within a family will have their own language-specific, age-specific, and gender-specific ministries to attend.
- Opportunities to learn how to submit and be humble.
As we reflect Jesus’ character of humility and servanthood (Matthew 11:28-29), we learn to submit to the leadership of the church. Leadership in Asian churches tends to resemble a dictatorship, with one leader or group of leaders making decisions for everyone.
- Opportunities to develop and practice conflict resolution.
The intergenerational and intercultural conflicts that arise within an immigrant Asian church are well-documented. These give people opportunities to learn conflict resolution as God desires from us.
- Opportunities to learn how to contextualize theology and thus do missional training.
Being in an ethnic-specific church gives us opportunities to contextualize our theology and view of God. Can we model Paul’s sentiment of being “all things to all people.”? Often the American generation desires to go “to the ends of the earth”, but have forgotten about their own “Jerusalem.” What about our families and immigrant friends whom we have a connection to because of our ancestry? Since Asian culture tends to be a closed culture, we must learn to go inside it and share life with these people. We must know what is going on. Also, we can learn how to culturally contextualize biblical doctrines like reconciliation, grace, and forgiveness. After all, if we can’t do this in our own people group, how can we do it outside?